By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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Under a proposed transportation benefit district, the Port Angeles City Council could approve a $20 car registration fee for city residents without going to voters.
It would need voter approval for higher car registration fees up to $100 or a sales tax increase of up to 0.2 percent, said Craig Fulton, city public works and utilities manager.
“Another $20, another $100. We don’t have it. Lots of people don’t have it,” Port Angeles resident Cindy Turney said at a council meeting last Tuesday.
City staff members expect to present City Council members with more detail on how a benefit district could be developed and implemented at a work session in late July or August.
“We will provide various funding options with pros and cons,” Fulton said.
In 2009, Sequim residents voted to implement a transportation benefit district and increase city sales tax.
No major Port Angeles road repairs have been funded since 2010, city public works staff said.
The department has floated the idea of a district that would raise taxpayer money to help fund street maintenance and improvements.
The city’s 2015-2020 transportation improvement program, presented to the City Council last Tuesday before a public hearing on the plan, includes about $59.7 million worth of projects for which the city lacks funding.
“If you look at the program, the projects that are not funded, that was the genesis of the transportation benefit district,” Fulton said.
The council will conduct a second public hearing on the five-year transportation improvement plan, which state law requires cities to adopt, at their June 17 meeting.
The meeting will be at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 321 E. Fifth St.
The council will consider only the plan, not the proposed transportation benefit district.
Though the decision is up to City Council members, Fulton said he thinks a sales tax increase would be the best option since it would be paid by more than just city residents.
“That would be, I believe, the best recommendation for city residents and presents the most flexibility for the street program,” Fulton said.
A 0.2 percent increase, or 2 cents more on a $10 purchase, would generate between $500,000 and $550,000 per year based on 2010 city sales tax figures, Fulton said.
Creating a district would need more than one council vote, Fulton said, and would require at the very least a public hearing, if not a full election ballot item for voter approval.
“A big part of this would be a really focused communications plan to the public to make sure they understand what we’re trying to achieve, what the funding mechanism would be and what the impacts would be, if any, to them and to others who live outside the city but utilize our streets,” Fulton said.
Fulton said what limited street repairs there have been in recent years have been funded through a combination of grant funds and money from the city’s general fund.
Both sources, however, are not guaranteed and cannot be relied upon for the kind of focused street repair program the city now needs, Fulton explained.
“The first thing that usually gets eliminated is funding for streets,” Fulton said, referring to money removed from the city’s general fund during annual budget discussions.
“The transportation benefit district sets up a secure funding program strictly for streets.”
Overall, Port Angeles’ 154 miles of streets and alleys rate a 35 out of 100, or “poor,” on a pavement condition index used to quantify the state of driving surfaces, Fulton said.
“We do have significant street issues,” Fulton said.
“And if we do nothing, our streets will just continue failing.”
The city’s 40 miles of alleyway were rated a 5 on the scale, according to city figures, while the 65 miles of residential streets were rated at 38.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.